July 07--CHEYENNE -- Wyoming will take slow, cautious steps as it considers setting up a federally mandated health insurance exchange.
The go-slow approach occurs even as the state faces tight deadlines from the federal government.
On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld much of President Obama's federal health-care law called the Affordable Care Act.
A part of the law requires states to create health insurance exchanges. If they do not, the federal government will do the work for them.
People and businesses can buy health insurance through these online health exchanges. The exchanges are supposed to reduce the numbers of people who do not have health insurance.
States must be on their way to starting exchanges by Jan. 1, 2013, according to the federal law. The law requires all states to have health insurance exchanges by 2014.
By Nov. 16, Gov. Matt Mead has to submit a letter of intent stating whether Wyoming will establish an exchange.
Mead said earlier that he will try to meet with the leadership in the state Legislature in the next month about the issue.
Wyoming's next step is to gather more information about health insurance exchanges, said Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper. State leaders will use this information to shape decisions about a health insurance exchange.
Landen is co-chairman of the Wyoming Health Insurance Exchange Steering Committee. He and co-chairwoman Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, met with Mead on Tuesday to talk about Wyoming's direction.
"The meeting came out with an extensive list of things we've got to find out before we can make a good recommendation to the state leaders about exchanges," Landen said.
In March, the steering committee stopped its extensive study of health exchanges. Officials decided to
stop until the High Court ruled on whether the Affordable Care Act was constitutional.
There are no plans for the committee to meet right now, Landen said.
He is not worried about the state meeting federal deadlines. "I don't really anticipate that many of the deadlines will be hard and fast," he said.
If the worst case occurred, federal authorities could set up an exchange and allow the state to take it over, he said.
"My nature going forward is going to be cautionary. I'm going to work as hard as I can to make sure whatever decision will help citizens of this state, regardless of the federal mandates," he said.
Anne Ladd, chief executive officer of the Wyoming Business Coalition on Health, said Wyoming is pretty far behind other states on its work toward a health exchange.
"We have a lot of catching up to do," she said. She wonders how flexible the federal government will be with deadlines.
About half the states in the country are far behind, too, she said. "I think the feds will start to realize that it will have to step in at some level," she said.
It's difficult to predict what might happen in Wyoming, she said.
"My guess is that we will probably end up with a state and federal partnership over the course of the next 12 to 36 months," she said of a health exchange. Then, the state could take it over and run it, she said.
The Wyoming Business Coalition on Health supports health insurance exchanges, she said. "We think these could be a very valuable tool for employers in the state."
The coalition "believes the exchange to be a very powerful tool for employers to use and would help them when buying health-care benefits," Ladd said.
The coalition was disappointed that the committee suspended its work last spring.
"I think we could have done a lot more public education about what an exchange is and does," she said. But she said she understood why the delay occurred.
Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, is chairman of the state Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee.
He said the Legislature could consider a bill in the 2013 session calling for a health insurance exchange.
Whether Wyoming needs an exchange turns on how much of the federal health-care plan is expected to be in place after the November elections, he said.
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